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Three Things: Indiana men’s basketball loses at Northwestern 64-62

That Sucked, but probably didn’t mean all that much!

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After playing one of the worst first halves of the season so far, Indiana battled back to tie the game at 62 with under a minute to play. Chris Collins elected not to call a time out, instead letting Boo Buie run an ISO to hit the game winner as time expired (we won’t talk about whether he walked or pushed off there).

Last night’s game was as ugly as can be, basically epitomizing the Big Ten tackle basketball. Trayce was fouled three times on his first four field goals, usually by more than one player as Northwestern collapsed on him in the paint every time the ball went inside.

On any other night, outscoring an opponent on the road by 18 points in a half would have resulted in a win. Unfortunately, Indiana dug itself into far too much of a hole in the first half and fell short last night in Evanston.

Here’s Three Things:

The First Half

Everything went wrong for Indiana in the first half, and it certainly appeared to be one of its classic blowout losses away from Assembly Hall. Jalen Hood-Schifino wasn’t seeing too many shots go down, yet he still led the Hoosiers in scoring and was the only one to make more than one field goal in the half.

The refs were really letting anything go in the paint early on, and then hit Indiana’s bench with a couple of quick technicals for complaining about a missed foul on Jalen Hood-Schifino. At first it appeared as though Woodson was tossed, but the refs apparently found somebody else on the coaching staff to pin the other tech on.

Indiana somehow limited itself to six turnovers in the half after turning it over on the first two possessions, but also shot just 28.6% from the field to put up a whopping 20 points. Northwestern found success with its delayed double on Trayce Jackson-Davis, which kept him from finding any offensive rhythm in the first half.

The Hoosiers weren’t getting a ton of help around Trayce and Jalen, going 0-5 from 3-point range, missing some wide open looks on the perimeter after the defense had collapsed on the paint. Miller Kopp had a particularly rough start, becoming the subject of some profane chants from the Northwestern student section.

This game had all the makings of a blowout loss, and the student journalists next to me had their “Cinderella season continues” stories all ready to go in their Google Docs.

The Second Half

From the first possession of the second half, it was clear that Indiana had made some huge adjustments to Northwestern’s defense. Trayce started playing more of a point-forward position, getting the ball earlier in the possession and facing up his defender before driving to the paint.

On the first three possessions, Trayce registered three assists on Indiana’s 7 points, including the first made three of the night from Trey Galloway. Race Thompson had the other four points, getting his first two field goals of the night and finally resembling the healthy player we saw in the first half of the Iowa game.

Suddenly, Indiana had life. It was far from perfect, and the Hoosiers still lacked real secondary scoring, but they were fighting back.

In the big picture, a two point loss on the road to a tournament team that’s now second in the Big Ten - as big of an indictment of the conference as there ever has been - will not hurt Indiana’s postseason aspirations. The most consequential part of the game is that Indiana is now a game back of second place in the conference.

The way this team was able to make such significant changes in the second half and fight its way back into an awful, ugly game is a testament to the progress this group has made this season and under Woodson. Too many times in the past, this would have ended as a 20 point loss, or worse.

After the game, Woodson chalked the first half up to the team being too psyched up to play on the road, denying that there were any significant changes to the game plan in the second half. Even if it was just a mental lapse, last night proved that this staff can get the team poised and engaged again when it matters.

Trayce Jackson-Davis

As has been the case most of the season, Indiana lived and died with Trayce. In the first half, he looked liked he may have finally come back down to earth, and Indiana had absolutely no chance to beat Northwestern.

Then he came out in the second half ready to for the double team, and everything started clicking for the Hoosiers. The answer to the offense seemed to be: More Trayce, and earlier.

He finished the night with an incredibly efficient 23 points on 7-11 shooting, plus eight assists and 10 rebounds. If his supporting cast had even an average shooting night, he likely would have had his second triple double of the year.

Perhaps most importantly, he went 9-11 from the free throw line. If teams are going to continue to foul him as a defensive strategy like Northwestern did, he’s going to need to be able to get points at the line.

While it isn’t the jump shot NBA Twitter insisted he needed to further his game, Trayce has clearly developed his skillset and stepped up as this team’s clear leader this year. Credit to Mike Woodson for putting the ball in his hands earlier in the second half, but it takes an incredible player to take over a game like that and bring his team back from down 21 points on the road.